High-achieving high school rocked by hacking scandal

Students at a top public high school in Potomac, Md., hacked into the school’s computer system and changed class grades, and officials are investigating how widespread the damage might be, reports the Washington Post. The incident prompted an emergency staff meeting at Churchill High School and a recorded phone message to parents on Jan. 27. The extent of the apparent security breach was not immediately clear; teachers at the school were being asked to review their grades for discrepancies. The students involved used a computer program to capture passwords from at least one teacher, according to sources familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Teachers were told to check grades for anomalies and correct them before first semester report cards are released Feb. 3, according to the sources. But because teachers at the school no longer keep separate records for their grades, it might be difficult to go back and find a student’s original grade, the sources said. School officials urged Churchill teachers to change their passwords immediately and rotate them more often. The 2,100-student school has a 98-percent graduation rate, 11 points higher than Montgomery County as a whole. Its average SAT scores were 1820 out of a possible 2400 in the 2008-09 school year, the second highest in the county…

Click here for the full story


Supercomputer breakthrough allows astronomers to share universe simulations

Supercomputing has helped astrophysicists create massive models of the universe, but such simulations have remained out of reach for many researchers. That could change, however, after a successful test allowed scientists in Portland, Ore., to watch a Chicago-based simulation of how ordinary matter and mysterious dark matter evolved in the early universe, Space.com reports. The streaming event took place in real time, which means that teams in both Chicago and Portland theoretically could have interacted together in the simulation as easily as PC or console video gamers play together in online games. The demo goes far beyond entertaining people with 3-D journeys through the early universe. Only supercomputers can handle the huge amounts of data that make up the most sophisticated astrophysics models, and scientists can’t always travel to places with supercomputing clusters to do their research. Having the ability to stream a fully rendered simulation online allows scientists to collaborate on research remotely and overcome the barriers of limited access to supercomputers. “This is an example of trying to break down that barrier—a barrier that gets higher every day as simulations get more complex,” said Mark Hereld, a computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois…

Click here for the full story


Type A-plus students chafe at grade deflation

When Princeton University set out six years ago to corral galloping grade inflation by putting a lid on A’s, many in academia lauded the school for taking a stand on a national problem and predicted that others would follow. But the idea never took hold beyond Princeton’s walls, and so its bold vision is now running into fierce resistance from the school’s Type A-plus student body, reports the New York Times. With the job market not what it once was, even for Ivy Leaguers, Princetonians are complaining that the campaign against bulked-up GPAs might be coming at their expense. “The nightmare scenario, if you will, is that you apply with a 3.5 from Princeton and someone just as smart as you applies with a 3.8 from Yale,” said Daniel E. Rauch, a senior from Millburn, N.J. The percentage of Princeton grades in the A range dipped below 40 percent last year, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004. The class of 2009 had a mean grade-point average of 3.39, compared with 3.46 for the class of 2003. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students cited the grading policy as the top source of unhappiness (compared with 25 percent for lack of sleep)…

Click here for the full story


Five key ways to evaluate grant projects

(Editor’s note: This column is an excerpt from Deb Ward’s latest book, Effective Grants Management, 2010: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Mass., www.jbpup.com. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.)

Following specific guidelines can help you evaluate grant programs.

Following specific guidelines can help you evaluate grant programs.

The following information regarding evaluations was provided by Dr. Matt Rearick, an evaluator who is currently an assistant professor of education, health, and human performance at Roanoke College in Virginia. Dr. Rearick has experience conducting external evaluations for several grant-funded projects.

Q: What are [some] of the most common types of evaluation tools included in proposals?

1. Logic models

Logic models are general frameworks that answer four questions about a project: What are the inputs? (people, places, things); What are the activities?  (programs, resources, and equipment); What are the outputs? (What does the grantee expect to see based on the inputs and activities?); and, What are the outcomes? (What does the grantee expect to see as a result of achieving the project’s goals?)

Logic models are visual and often look like a flow chart, and so [they] are often easier to understand than a narrative description in a proposal. A proposal does not need to include a logic model to have structure or a disciplined assessment and evaluation, but its inherent clarity and the discipline that goes into creating one helps everyone–proposal reviewers, proposal writers, stakeholders, and evaluators–comprehend the project’s logic and flow. Logic models are often the first step in determining what types of evaluation tools are necessary for a project.

2. Quasi-experimental evaluation designs

Experimental designs (i.e., experimental vs. control groups) are preferred in research. Yet, in most grant programs, this is difficult to implement for three reasons: (1) limited funds; (2) buy-in/adherence; and (3) desire on the part of the grantee to include all participants in the project, rather than excluding some individuals. As an alternative, quasi-experimental designs can be used. A grantee can use comparison groups or use participants as their own control group by pre- and post-testing them.

There are inherent problems [in] using a quasi-experimental design when trying to ascertain causality. The advantage of the effectiveness for evaluating a grant program, [however,] combined with the potential for lowering costs and lessening the full burden of experimental designs, makes this type of design appealing to funders who are often attracted to “research-oriented approaches.”

3. Well-established tools, such as surveys, questionnaires, and examinations

Grantees should use well-respected and research-established surveys and exams whenever possible. These have been tested for reliability and validity and give evaluators, project staff, and funders the greatest degree of confidence when examining data for trends and significant findings.

4. Project-specific surveys, questionnaires, and examinations

Every grant-funded project is unique, and using already established tools described in No. 3 might not capture all that is happening in every project. … To increase the scope of the assessment and evaluation, consider using both well-established tools and those that have been developed specifically for the project.

5. Interviews

Part of the evaluation process can–and in many cases, should–include interviews with project staff, participants, and other stakeholders. Interviews can be structured or unstructured. [As with items] 3 and 4, interviews should not be the sole evaluation tool, but seen as complementary to other assessment tools being utilized.


CompassLearning bought by private investment firm

Students master technology at a young age and software must keep up with that trend.

Students master technology at a young age, and software must keep up with that trend, CompassLearning says.

Educational software company CompassLearning has been purchased by Marlin Equity Partners, a move that CEO Eric Loeffel said will give the company greater flexibility in a fast-paced market that must respond to the needs of digital natives.

Marlin Equity Partners purchased CompassLearning from Reader’s Digest Association on Jan. 26. Loeffel said CompassLearning plans to enhance its product line in an attempt to grow in the education market, and he expects a greater ability to respond to customer needs now that CompassLearning is not a subsidiary of a large corporate parent.

Reader’s Digest Association filed for bankruptcy in August 2009, citing a loss in advertising and high debt. In a recently approved reorganization, the firm is expected to emerge from bankruptcy in a plan that would cut its debt by 75 percent.

Publishers have been hit hard with declining advertising revenue and consumer sales as the U.S. economy struggles to gain footing.

“This partnership comes just as we are seeing a convergence of student interest, teacher interest, and technological innovation that will generate a real revolution in educational software,” said Loeffel.

The market for educational software is poised for exponential growth as digital natives reshape the way educators think about teaching and learning, he said.

Just as television defined the baby boomers, today’s students are growing up with texting, Twitter, YouTube, and increasingly mobile access to the internet. Digital natives express a desire to learn with the same technologies that infuse others aspect of their lives, and research shows that these students respond best to creative, personalized, web-based learning.

Its new ownership will give CompassLearning increased flexibility, Loeffel said, adding: “By the nature of being in today’s marketplace, you have to be agile and nimble.”

CompassLearning’s products include professional development, and Loeffel said the company has 70 educational consultants who will work with educators one-on-one to reveal how to engage today’s digital natives.

“What does today’s research say about how kids learn?” he said. “We don’t just pay lip service to digital natives, we are using research and customer feedback … to learn how to build products for today’s kids.”

And while the term “digital natives” seems to be the most current catchphrase in education, Loeffel said it’s more than just a label.

“The fact is, digital natives do learn differently than we did,” he said. “It really is impressive, the rate at which they learn, the amount of information [they digest], and how they’re processing all that to learn and develop their skills.”

Another trend that is becoming more and more of a reality in education, Loeffel said, is integrating social networking into educational practices and products.

“Teachers want to know how to connect with students,” he said. “Kids are texting each other, they’re on Facebook, and they’re constantly engaging with those kind of tools.”

In response to this trend, CompassLearning is working to incorporate social networking features into its products, Loeffel said, so that students can connect with other students—and they can contact teachers with problems or questions about assignments.